Israel Passes Law Meant to Keep Breaking the Silence Out of Schools

Law prohibits school activities organized by groups in favor of legal actions being taken abroad against Israeli soldiers ■ Critics ask: 'Where will we hear the truth about what's happening in the occupied territories?'

Israeli soldiers standing in front of a house in a village near Nablus in the West Bank on July 13, 2018.
AFP

The Knesset passed overnight Monday the so-called Breaking the Silence law, aimed at clamping down on organizations critical of the Israeli military.

The law passed after Israeli lawmakers voted on it in a second and third reading (for a bill to pass it has to go through three readings in total).

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The legislation will prevent lectures and activities at local schools which are organized by groups that are in favor of legal actions being taken abroad against IDF soldiers. The proposal passed by a majority of 43 to 24.

The law is perceived as targeting the Israeli non-profit organization Breaking the Silence, which seeks to provide testimonies by Israeli veterans who served in volatile areas such as the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

Nonetheless, Breaking the Silence, the anti-occupation veterans' group, said Tuesday morning that the law will not apply to them because they are not acting to support and promote indictment of IDF soldiers in foreign courts.

While discussing the legislation, the Knesset accepted a last-minute reservation presented by MK Amir Ohana (Likud). Ohana suggested that law will also apply to those who work abroad to assist institutions that may promote political proceedings against Israel.

Sources close to Ohana say it's meant to prevent lectures given by human rights group B'Tselem's executive director Hagai El-Ad, who participated in the UN security council in 2016 where he called on the council to impose sanctions on Israel.

MK Shuli Mualem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi), one of the initiators of the law, at the Knesset in February 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

The law, which received the backing of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, calls for meaningful service in the IDF and national service to be included in the national educational system.  

MK Shelly Yachimovich (Zionist Union) called the initiators of the law "cowards."

"My two children served the most significant service in the IDF where they were officers," she said. "They grew up in Tel Aviv and were exposed to all the pluralistic views that this city offers, including lectures by Breaking the Silence at schools. It did not hurt and did not undermine the education received at home. What are you afraid of?" she concluded.

Other Knesset members slammed the law, such as Dov Khenin (Joint List) who said: "This law is dangerous and problematic. The education system is not the property of a minister. [He] is not the chief censor of the school"

Meretz Chairman Tamar Zandberg also joined the criticism. "At first they said: 'Why abroad, talk in Israel,' but in Israel they say, 'Not in the IDF, not in schools, community centers,' so where will we hear the truth about what is happening in the occupied territories?"

MK Shuli Mualem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi), one of the initiators of the law, told Zandberg in response: "I have to admit that you sound very frightened and very panicked, especially very hypocritical," adding "Breaking the Silence is slandering IDF soldiers in Israel and around the world."

The Parents Circle – Families Forum, a group of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families that work together for reconciliation, also condemned the bill.

"Valuable education is an education that exposes kids to a wide range of opinions and positions, encouraging debate rather than dictating views," the group said in a statement.

"This law does the exact opposite by turning the education minister into a censor (...) We hope the law won't be turned into a political instrument to silence organizations and opinions which are part of public discourse and should therefore be part of the conversation in schools."